“Teach my baby sign language? But why would I do that? My baby isn’t deaf!”
Less than ten years ago, this was the typical reaction heard when a parent first encountered the concept of using Baby Sign Language with their baby! Today, the times, and the questions, have changed dramatically. Now, parents around the world are proactively seeking reliable sources of information to help them begin using signs with their children, starting as early as 6 months! That’s because signing with pre-verbal babies makes complete sense and it just plain works!
Quite literally, many hundreds of thousands of families are now able and eager to share, firsthand, the many benefits that it offers. Today, the first question from a parent is more likely to be, “Do these Baby Sign Language learning resources and tools come from a trusted source, and do they teach true, American Sign Language (ASL) signs instead of just made-up signs?” More about this extremely important question in a moment!
The concept and practice of engaging babies with Baby Sign Language has come a long way since the mid 1980’s when pioneering researchers, Joseph Garcia, and Susan Goodwin (along with her research partner, Linda Acredolo), began their separate investigative work into the use of manual gestures with pre-verbal babies. The basic idea here is that, prior to about 18-24 months of age, a typically-developing child has not yet acquired the fine motor skills that are absolutely required to form words verbally. Said in another way, their bodies are simply not yet physically developed to the point where they can form intelligent words using the muscles that control their mouth and tongue.
Now here’s the great news for little babies and those who love them. By as early as 6-7 months, most babies’ bodies are already well on their way to developing a lifetime of being able to control and manipulate their larger muscles. This ability is referred to as having gross motor skills. OK, so what’s the big deal about having gross motor skills? The answer to that question lies in the fact that signing, unlike verbal speech, gets its turbocharged horsepower primarily from these gross motor skills. These are the same gross motor skills (i.e., control over their hands) that a 6-7 month old baby has already begun to acquire!
Now that your baby is revving up those gross motors at a mere 6 months (perhaps even before she can sit up by herself), all we need to do is to provide her with the roadmap to understand how she can impact the world around her by using those powerful little engines. When combined with some simple structure, the signs she produces will empower her with truly-effective communication. The world will “hear” her thoughts. Enter . . . sign language vocabulary, borrowed from ASL!
Notice that we referred to . . . vocabulary from ASL! Does it really matter? The simple answer is emphatically . . . YES, it sure does matter! And here’s why. We could easily pat our head and teach our baby that when we do, our gesture means, “MILK.” The fact is that she WILL learn that our head pat means, “MILK,” and she WILL use that gesture whenever she wants some “MILK.”
Ah . . . but here comes the super-irritating, bad-news rub (and no amount of Desenex will cure this one)! If her parent does choose to teach her that patting her head means, “MILK,” then her parent has unfortunately created a super-secret code that only she and her “teacher” (parent) will understand! No one else will get the message unless they are also taught her unique, special code. This issue of making up your own, private language is huge and makes little sense! She’ll begin using her unique, head pat to successfully tell her parent when she wants milk but then look out, when she tries to get the same result by using that same gesture with anyone else in the Universe, she’ll be getting back nothing but an empty stare and no “MILK.” Two words can precisely describe her reaction . . . “MAJOR FRUSTRATION!”
One of the most important benefits behind empowering your baby with Baby Sign Language is how much it will dramatically reduce frustration, screaming, and crying (yes, and that goes for the parents too). So why would anyone want their child to be misled into thinking (and expecting) that they can successfully communicate with other people, only to face the inevitable rude reality that the rest of the world just doesn’t understand their new “language?”
If a child ever enters into a childcare setting, imagine the total frustration if each family has made up their own, super-secret codes for their baby. The result? Almost total communication breakdown is served up along with a big round of added frustration, topped off with a heaping helping of added stress for everyone involved! Hmmmm . . . not exactly the best scenario for anyone.
The reality is that ASL signs are easy to learn and to remember because they’re typically, “iconic.” In other words, the signs look a lot like the object or concept that they’re describing. For example, the ASL sign for, MILK” is produced simply by opening and closing your fist . . . just as if you were milking a cow. At this moment, you too now know the sign and can probably already make it correctly. See how easy Baby Sign Language using ASL signs can be?
The super cool part of using standardized signs is that we can all, independently, learn the ASL signs as we need them yet, just as the song says, “When we get together . . . the happier we’ll be!” With standardized signs, we’ll all be communicating using the same language and the same set of signs. Makes good sense? Of course it does!
It’s also important to note that ASL is the third-most-used language in the US. ASL follows right in behind English first, then Spanish in the number two slot. And by the way, today, most high schools and colleges recognize ASL as a fully-accredited foreign language that will officially fulfill a student’s foreign language requirements for graduation. So when you use ASL signs with your baby, you’re also giving them the bonus gift of a foundation for learning a genuine foreign language.
As we move forward into the future, the world will see the rapidly-building wave of ASL Baby Sign Language as an important component in promoting language acquisition, early learning, and early literacy for all children. Are you and your baby ready to ride the wave? Whatever you do, don’t miss it because this ride is nothing less than amazing!
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